What To Do To Prevent Incoherent Characterization

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The last thing you want when you start a new character is for their details to seep into a mash of so-so blandness. To be forgettable, you know, is the worst kind of personality trait. Here are a few tricks to ensure that your characters never venture into the muddled land of faceless, charmless name tags on a page.

Because Memorable Characters Make For Happy Readers

Nothing makes me happier, when reading a good novel, than a charming, well-defined character. I feel like I get to know a real person, and make friends with them, and I can always go back to the book and revisit them when I want to. Nothing makes me loyal to a book like a character I really enjoy. How do you make this kind of character? Well, I’ll tell you.

Victor, You Don’t Know Anything About Writing!

First, you have to make sure that your character has a physical being, which lends them a sense of reality. Sometimes you write disembodied characters; I have an ancient man whose consciousness has been magically entrapped within a stone, but even he has an energy form. He feels and sounds real, because I constructed a whole being before I wrote him.

He’s Pretty Cool

If you write a character from a place of blankness, you risk writing dialogue and actions around a ghost, or an empty bubble. Readers can feel, or taste, the substance in an established character, and if your characters are cyphers, or convenient sign posts for carrying out a plot, your books will not do well at all.

People Want To Connect With People

You start with a foundation; I like to start with a physical carriage. Even my dude-in-a-stone has body language, and a way of carrying and expressing himself physically (he was alive before he was in a stone). Even a computer character, like the malignant computer in Portal and Portal 2, has a vivid sense of visceral being. This is done with vocal inflection and word choice, but before delivery can be written, the foundation of being must be there, and that work happens inside your mind.

You, The Author, Are The God Of Your Characters

You have a foundation, a sense of how the pelvic floor is tilted, and where the energy is shifted through the shoulders and the jaw. Once you have created this basement, as it were, of a character, you can begin to build the superficial character features.

Like Makeup For The Stage

How the hair falls over the head, and what the habitual cleanliness of the body is like; these are examples of details that you need to establish in your mind in order to convey a distinct characterization to your readers. None of this, or very little of it, ever needs to be written in your actual story, but there is a real psychological effect in your creation; if you know these details, they are carried lightly through in the finished prose.

Examples

Bad Writing:

Luanne had made a poor start to her morning. The laundry was late, and there was trouble at the curbside pickup. She hadn’t made enough time for the tasks in the early portion of this day, and she was very solid in the hope that tomorrow would maybe hopefully bring in a better day. Especially since she had a date this evening. And because she was almost ready to cry. Mr. Gevo had not finished the work like he’d promised, and she wished she had stayed in bed five moments more, because then she wouldn’t be like this now.

Good Writing:

Luanne wanted to cry, but she hadn’t worn tear-free mascara today, and she stared up at the whizzing fans of the dry cleaners, blinking furiously. The cool air in the stale shop brushed like butterfly wings against her eyes, and she took in a shaky breath.

The handle of her glistening orange handbag made a sharp indent in her shoulder; Mr. Gevo came from the back, and approached the counter. When he told her the shirts would be done at five, she wanted to crumble into a heap on the floor. She thanked him, and wobbled out of the dry cleaners, her patent pointy heels catching in the lip of the door frame.

Little Foundation Work Means Weak Characterization

The deeper you get to know your characters, the more sure your characterization can become. Spend time on foundational body carriage, and remember that class and dress are superficial details sitting on top of a complex set of emotional patterns, energy habits, and physical tics.

You’re reading a blog by Victor Poole. My books are here. Congratulations on your latest achievement in life, and good luck on your ventures this afternoon.

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